Bill aims to curb sales from puppy mills; animal advocates say proposed law falls short

TORONTO – As the provincial government introduces legislation it claims will help bring an end to puppy mills, some animal advocacy organizations say the bill doesn’t do nearly enough.

On Dec. 4, the province announced the tabling of the Preventing Unethical Puppy Sales Act, which it says will “stop harmful dog breeding practices, impose penalties, and make sure that dogs across Ontario receive the care they deserve.”

According to the province, the legislation, if passed, would make it an offence to:

  • breed female dogs less than a year old;
  • breed female dogs over three times within two years, or breeding over two litters from a female dog’s consecutive heat cycles;
  • fail to keep dogs with contagious diseases away from other dogs and animals;
  • fail to keep a dog’s environment clean; and
  • separate a puppy from its mother before eight weeks.

Fines of $10,000 for those operating a puppy mill and $25,000 for the death of a dog would be implemented, according to the province.

“Changes will also allow the province to help develop regulations to set conditions that must be met when selling or transferring a dog and establish regulations for record-keeping,” states a Dec. 4 news release about the legislation.

The law has yet to work through the legislature, and the province is currently accepting public feedback until Jan. 4 through Ontario’s Regulatory Registry.

The bill awaits its second reading at Queen’s Park, where MPPs would have an opportunity to further debate the bill. It’s expected the law will be sent to a committee for further evaluation before it returns to the House.

It’s during the committee stage that organizations such as Animal Justice and Humane Initiative hope meaningful amendments will be made.

Solicitor General Michael Kerzner has said the legislation could bring about the “strongest penalties for animal welfare violations in the country,” and make Ontario “the first province in the country to introduce minimum penalties specific to puppy mills.”

But Humane Initiative co-founder and president Donna Power said the legislation in reality is “pretty weak.”

“They’re selling it to the public like it’s the second coming, but they acknowledge to us, they know it’s not where it should be by any means,” Power told the Advertiser by phone recently.

That the legislation could bring about an end to puppy mills is “simply not true,” she said.

Her organization has been in contact with Kerzner’s office, and Power said she spoke with Kerzner on Dec. 6 following the tabling of the legislation.

As the law now stands, Power said “nothing would change for the animals.”

 Animal Justice executive director and lawyer Camille Labchuk echoed that sentiment to the Advertiser.

“This bill will do little to nothing to stop the abuse of puppy mills in Ontario,” Labchuck asserted.

Stating otherwise could provide a “false sense of security” for people perusing online marketplaces for new four-legged family members, she said.

The Advertiser previously spoke with Labchuck for a March story reporting on the Englands, a Waterloo family that purchased two goldendoodle puppies from a Mapleton farmer sourcing the canines from a suspected puppy mill.

The puppies later died of parvovirus, a vaccine-preventable virus.

“I wish I could say otherwise, but my comments (then), almost entirely, still stand,” Labchuck said.

Her earlier comments and criticism focused on the province’s lack of explicit regulations for animal welfare officers to enforce.

Although she’s encouraged by the province recognizing there’s a problem, Labchuck said the bill ultimately fails to address a need for dogs to have adequate space, food and socialization.

It doesn’t address “most of the harm wrought by puppy mills, which is cramming way too many dogs into inadequate space, who are often suffering from medical conditions and do not get the care they need,” she explained.

“The England family for instance … I don’t see anything in the government’s bill that would help that family, or help those dogs, at all,” Labchuck said.

Both Labchuck and Power reiterated ongoing calls for a licensing regime coupled with enforceable care standards.

“In the case of dog breeding, we lack both of those things,” Labchuck said.

“Puppies are still big business in Ontario.”

The animal advocates maintain licensing and tightening up regulations would not only place breeders on the map for inspection and enforcement by the province, but also do away with vague and difficult-to-enforce wording in the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act.

“Obviously they’re not currently capable of addressing all the harms … because so many of these mills are still operating,” said Labchuck.

She anticipates “a lot of support” at Queen’s Park to amend the bill, noting animal welfare “cuts across political lines.

“People in this province care deeply about animal protection … this is something that touches a lot of people.”

In response to a six-question inquiry from the Advertiser, including a request for data on the number of animal welfare investigations and their outcomes, the solicitor general’s press secretary Hunter Kell responded with a statement.

Kell largely reiterated government talking points already reported in this story, and wrote that most municipalities have a “licensing system” for dog breeders and kennels.

The province would continue working with municipalities on the “shared responsibilities” of animal welfare, Kell added.

The province ignored the request for data on investigations.

This marks at least the second time lawmakers will consider a bill addressed at dealing with puppy mills in the province.

In September 2001, then-Liberal member Mike Colle introduced the Puppy Mill Ban and Animal Cruelty Prevention Act, that would have required breeders to be licensed.

 The bill was debated once before failing to pass a second reading and debate two months later.